3G, 4G, 5G…What’s the Difference? And What’s Next?

What’s the deal with those little numbers and letters at the top of your mobile phone’s screen? Telecommunications companies differentiate their latest technology and coverage by “G”, or Generation. The higher the number, the better and faster wireless service we can expect from our mobile devices.

There are two pieces to the puzzle: (1) your device’s capability, and (2) your carrier’s network speed and coverage in the area you happen to be in at that moment.

3G-– Retired in 2022 by major U.S. carriers to make room for 5G. 3G was the pioneer in commercial internet connectivity to mobile devices. Some older mobile phones, security systems, and car navigation systems were affected by its retirement.

4G—The standard service level available in today’s U.S. marketplace. 4G made it possible for data-intensive media downloads (e.g., video) on our phones, albeit at slower speeds than 5G.

5G—The latest generation and still being rolled out, the major carriers offer this level of service in an ever-increasing number of locations. It is better-suited than previous generations to streaming video. 5G service offers better security, faster upload and download speeds, and can handle more connected devices simultaneously than its predecessors. It uses a higher wireless frequency than previous generations.

Q: Will 4G be retired anytime soon?
A: No. If your phone is working now, it is at least 4G-capable. Experts predict that 4G will be around for another decade or so, which is longer than most phones’ life spans. When you are ready to replace your older phone, you will likely be considering new phone models that are 5G capable.
Q: Is my phone 5G-capable?
A: iPhone 12 models or later work with the 5G cellular networks of major carriers. Android users can navigate to Settings > Network & Internet > SIMs > Preferred Network Type to determine a device’s 5G capability. The telltale sign you’re getting 5G: a “5G” indicator at the top of your phone’s screen. This indicator may come and go as you move around town and as you travel.
Q: Is 6G right around the corner?
A: While it is being researched, it is not expected to be commercially available until approximately 2030.